Thursday, January 15, 2015

Guest post: 10 thoughts from Ryan Rintoul

Note: Ryan Rintoul played for Minnesota State 1994-1998 and was a member of the Mavericks' first Division I hockey team in 1996-97. He ranks fifth all-time in scoring with 169 points and still holds MSU's career record for assists with 114. In recent years he has done work with the Maverick Hockey Weekend game broadcasts. These are his thoughts on the Mavericks' current season, especially in the wake of the team's first-ever No. 1 ranking. Rintoul can be found on Twitter @sharpsk8s.

Proud time to be a Maverick Monday as the college hockey world put their stamp of approval on the Mavs as the No. 1-ranked team in the nation. How far the program has come, eh?

I recall the first time driving southwest on Highway 169 toward Mankato to join a team "on the road to Division 1." It was a very exciting time, complete with a new downtown venue and a determined, albeit "veteran" recruiting class. The first couple of seasons were filled with a mixed-bag of D1, D2 and D3, but we always had a focus on the future. Those years absolutely flew by. Each following year was filled by an (even) better recruiting class, and the Division 1 era was born. 

Looking back on those years, we had a very solid team, and the schedule was pretty stacked: at North Dakota, at Minnesota, at Minnesota Duluth, Colorado College, Denver, at St. Cloud State, at Michigan State, at Union, at Ferris State, at Nebraska Omaha ... and the list goes on. We tiptoed toward D1 then dove in head-first. As they say, the rest is history. 

So to all the Mavericks, past and present, who helped create this program, be proud. The No. 1 ranking is well-deserved, and this team is for real.

Here are 10 thoughts about the Mavericks:

1. Over the last couple seasons, I've been asked "How's coach Hastings?" ... "What are they doing down in Mankato that’s so special?" ...  "How did MSU recruit that kid?" I always think back to my first experience around Hastings at our annual alumni golf tourney. When you meet him, you get an immediate understanding of his philosophy and direction for the program. Quick story: In years past at the golf tourney, the coaching staff would get in front of the 200-300 golfers and comment on the team, the new recruits and outlook for the year. At some point, the staff would individually recognize each incoming freshman and get the token applause. Not with coach Hastings! Sure, they still introduced the incoming freshman, but what he did was much different. Instead of focusing on the “newbies, he had each senior stand up and be recognized. I'm paraphrasing, but the point was: These are the guys who will lead us to success; these are the guys who our young players will look up to. Pretty cool stuff, and at that moment the program changed.

2. More on Hastings and the entire coaching staff, who have done an excellent job this year: Not only have they got the Mavs firing on all cylinders, they have an intense focus on making the entire program better, even off the ice. There are some great behind-the-scenes rink enhancements coming to the Verizon Wireless Center soon. What's interesting in talking with the staff is how much they want every alum to "feel the love." Hastings and his staff want alumni at the games, actively involved in the program and proudly supporting the direction. There's talk of a pre/post-game room where alumni can gather, reminisce and support MSU. Love the enthusiasm that coach Hastings, coach Blue and coach Knott have created.

3. Shattuck St Mary's in Faribault is the top prep hockey school in the U.S. Their top team routinely supplies NCAA teams with well-rounded players. It boasts alumni such as NHL superstars Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews and Zach Parise, to name a few. I can’t help but think with all the national attention and close proximity to Minnesota State, that several recruits will be even more interested in the Mavericks. Who doesn’t want to win championships and compete for titles year in andyear out? It will be an exciting few months to end the season. Stay tuned.

4. Speaking of Shattuck, 1998 MSU graduate and starting goalie Des Christopher is currently the head goalie coach for all the 'tenders at SSM. He also coaches the school's top bantam-age team and is constantly learning from Tom Ward, one of the best coaches in amateur hockey. Des always has insightful things to say about the hockey AND education program at Shattuck and just how great a coach and person Ward is: “He just loves hockey. Lives it, breathes it.” The Mavericks roster currently has Jean-Paul Lafontaine, Zach Stepan and Teddy Bleuger, and as the program elevates to new heights, I'm sure we'll see more great recruits down in Kato.

5. So how good are these Mavericks? I used the term “un-line-matchable” a few weeks ago during the broadcast of the Princeton series. What did I mean by that? If you’re the other team, you always look to key on a few guys and get the match-ups you like. Well, from what I’ve seen so far ... good luck. Most college rosters are shaped very similarly to the NHL with some scoring, some defensive players, some all-around players. I don’t see any team in the NCAA that can match MSU's depth. Offensively they are deep with scoring spread out across multiple units. Defensively they are mobile, steady and consistently maturing. IF they get quality goaltending (and they have TWO goalies), this team will be very dangerous.

6. Ah, the goaltending. If you had to critique the 2014-15 Mavericks and look for a hole, you’d probably second-guess this years’ goaltending. And, honestly, I think both guys would admit they need to be better. Getting better goaltending will be HUGE for MSU, as I’ve never seen any team at any level win championships without quality goaltending. That said, let’s not forget who these two are and what they’ve done: Stephon Williams was the 2012-13 WCHA goaltending champion. He went 21-12-2 with a 2.00 GAA and .924 save percentage. And his partner? Cole Huggins backstopped the Mavericks to the Broadmoor Trophy and was named the Final Five's Most Outstanding Player. He finished the year 21-8-1 with a 1.88 GAA, a .926 save percentage and was the 2013-14 WCHA goaltending champ. That’s a duo I want on my team down the stretch!

7. The Mavericks' home rink is a great venue, especially when the barn is packed and the “Ole, ole-ole-ole” song is being chanted after a big goal. Hopefully, the community of Mankato seizes this opportunity as a time to really get behind the team — regardless of who the opposition is. Get down to the Verizon Wireless Center and cheer on the No. 1-ranked team in the country — your very own Mavericks. A side bonus for the hometown fans is there’s not a bad seat in the house. They serve beer and alcohol and have a wide variety of food items. My fav? The Buffalo Wild Wings stand, topped off with a Culvers dessert.

8. Stopped in to watch Shattuck's top prep team vs the U17 Czech National team over the holidays and ran into ex-Mavericks coach Troy Jutting. (His son Tyler is a D-man there — big kid, solid defender and college-bound). In talking with Jutts, who is currently an assistant coach for Dean Blais at Nebraska Omaha, you could tell he was proud of both Mavericks clubs. He wishes MSU nothing but the best and knows just how good his old team can be. Personally, I’ll always be thankful for the opportunity Jutts gave me and my teammates to not only play, but to develop, grow up and mature.

9. Speaking of former Minnesota State coaches, I ran into program founder Don Brose in the concourse recently and had a short visit. He’s beaming! And why wouldn’t he be? Brose literally was part of the work crew that built the outdoor rink for the team to practice and play on back in its early years. Nobody knows just how far this program has come more than him. I look back on those early years at MSU and fondly remember all the life lessons Brosey wanted us to take away. Sometimes those were very difficult lessons to get through our young, thick heads, but thank goodness for them! Still to this day, most of us give him a great big hug and thank him for everything.

10. Finally, this is a first-rate program and a really special place to be. The friends you meet, connections you build and lessons you learn are irreplaceable. As we stroll down memory lane, I sincerely hope that the foundation for which this program was built doesn’t ever get lost in the shuffle. In my opinion, each and every player at MSU owes every player before him a debt of gratitude. Without players like Darren Blue and their active involvement in the community during the “On the road to Division 1” years, would there even be a building? Would there even be a program? My point is, the coaching staff can’t magically go POOF! and land a David Backes. It couldn’t have happened without the players before them and the ones before them and so on. I recall a few years back former player Mick Berge, who was a senior at the time, coming up to me at a local saloon and saying, “Thanks.” I barely knew him. What was he talking about? “You guys really helped start this whole thing, and that gave me a chance to play in WCHA,” he said.  Always thought that was pretty cool gesture. The game has evolved, and the program has as well. I see all this fancy training equipment, skating machines, specialized trainers, eating regimens, workout routines, study labs, relaxing lounges, etc. These are a MUST to be an elite D1 hockey team. I just hope that as the years go by, as the players come and go, that the history of this grassroots hockey story in southern Minnesota is always remembered and cherished by the players, coaches, staff and fans. 


1 comment:

Hockey25 said...

Great 10 thoughts, I really enjoyed reading it.
Go Mavericks!